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1st Harvest Workshop: Organic Cape Breton Farmed Dye Plants

16080 Highway 19


In 2019 three classic dye plants are being grown organically on a commercial scale on Cape Breton Island for the very first time. This first harvest workshop will be a colourful and very fun introduction to various methods of working with one or more of these plants (which plants we work with will depend on the harvest results, but regardless, there will be lots and lots of colour!).

DATE/TIME: Friday 11 October, 2019; 10 am to 4 pm 

ABOUT THE WORKSHOP: In recent years, there has been a significant resurgence in interest in natural fibres and natural dyes, as people grow more concerned about the effects of their own, and the planet’s, exposure to toxic chemicals. Also, many people are motivated to rediscover crafts that are a part of our collective human heritage, connect us to our ancestors’ ways of life, and immerse us in a respectful and creative relationship with the natural world. 

To celebrate our first organic dye plant harvest, this fun, colourful workshop – taking place during the Celtic Colours International Festival & the World Wide Weave exhibit (a global natural dye collaboration) at the Inverness County Centre for the Arts – will allow participants to learn proper natural dye techniques from one of Canada’s best known natural dye experts (Mel Sweetnam, of Mamie’s Schoolhouse, who is also coordinating the farm trials), with a strong focus on ecological methods, the history, artistry, and science of natural dyes, and using material from the first harvest of our island’s organically farmed dye plants. This is a hands-on workshop for participants, who will learn fresh leaf pigment extraction methods for Woad, a dye plant of ancient importance to the Celts that produces a range of beautiful blue and green colours, and/or learn dye bath techniques for Weld and Dyer’s Coreopsis, historic pigment plants from either side of the Atlantic Ocean that produce a range of beautiful gold, orange, and green colours, and that can be combined and over-dyed to produce a rainbow of other colours.

STUDENTS WILL LEARN: about Cape Breton’s first commercial dye plant trial (all grown organically) and our hopes for sustainably diversifying the island’s economy; about different types of fibres/textiles (i.e. protein vs. cellulose based fibres) and why they need to be treated differently (scouring & mordanting); how to prepare plant material to maximize dye yield; how to prepare fibres to maximize colour uptake, and minimize fading; how to create a range of hues from any given plant; natural post-dye treatments to protect fibres; good record keeping so that dye results can be reproduced.

STUDENTS WILL TAKE HOME: skills in proper natural dyeing techniques; a detailed handout; and fibre samples dyed in the workshop.


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